Kufah and the Khawarij
Muawiyyah had never faced an enemy like this before.
As his armies approached Kufah in Iraq, he received word a new rebellion had sprung from within the city. But these rebels were not devoted to Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muawiyyah’s former nemesis.
These were the Khawarij who opposed both Muawiyyah and Ali.
Muawiyyah expected some resistance when he came to occupy Kufah. The city had been Ali’s headquarters for almost four years.
Even as his armies closed in on Iraq in the last few months of Ali’s life, Muawiyyah knew taking the city would not be easy. Everyone expected a long, bloody struggle if Muawiyyah invaded Kufah.
But then, Ali was assassinated by one of the Khawarij.
After Ali’s death, his son Hassan became the Caliph. But Hassan had no desire to continue his father’s war with Muawiyyah. And he did not trust the Iraqis.
Hassan did the wise thing. He secured safe passage for himself and his family, gave up his claim to the Caliphate to Muawiyyah, and retired to Medina, the city of his birth.
Now it was Muawiyyah’s turn to deal with the madness in Iraq.
Muawiyyah’s capital, Damascus, was free of the scourge of the Khawarij, and he never had to fight them. In fact, much of his success was because of the stability in Syria.
Before the Muslims finalized their conquest of Syria in the Battle of Yarmouk, it had long been a Roman province. Unlike the new Iraqi cities of Kufah and Basra, the Syrians were comfortable with a central government.
Nonetheless, Muawiyyah was aware of the Khawarij mischief in Kufah.
The Khawarij were a strange breed. Outwardly, they were pious Muslims, dedicated to a life of devotion and worship.
But they believed every Muslim who did not agree with them were Munafiqun, or traitors to the faith. And they believed slaying the Munafiqun was a sacred duty.
The Khawarij were much more complicated than Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Muawiyyah and Ali’s conflict began with the murder of the third Righteous Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan. Muawiyyah and Uthman were cousins and both belonged to the powerful Umayyah clan of Mecca.
Ali assumed the Caliphate after Uthman’s murder and insisted the Muslim elite give him bay’ah, or the pledge of allegiance.
Most of the them reluctantly complied.
But some, like Muawiyyah, resisted.
At the time of Uthman’s death, Muawiyyah was the governor of Syria. He refused to give Ali the bay’ah until his cousin’s murder was avenged.
As the months passed and tensions escalated, both sides prepared for war. Muawiyyah was furious that many of Uthman’s opponents had attained high positions in Ali’s administration.
And Ali refused to find Uthman’s killers until Muawiyyah swore allegiance to him.
Ali started out with much more territory and men than Muawiyyah. But Ali had many things going against him and made several mistakes.
His biggest mistake was going to war against Aisha, the Prophet’s widow, at the Battle of the Camel. Though he defeated Aisha, Ali’s reputation and support suffered immensely.
After the Battle of the Camel, Ali changed his capital from Medina to Kufah. He clashed with Muawiyyah for the first time at the Battle of Siffin in Syria.
Muawiyyah was close to losing when his trusted advisor, Amr ibn Al-As, negotiated a ceasefire.
In the terms of the ceasefire, Ali and Muawiyyah agreed to have two men arbitrate and decide how best to resolve the conflict. Many of Ali’s followers opposed this idea.
Those that opposed arbitration separated from Ali, declaring both he and Muawiyyah were Munafiqun, traitors to the faith. They vowed to destroy the corrupt Muslim leadership and establish a new era of righteous Islamic rule.
These Khawarij, as they came to be known, put Ali in a difficult spot. He was reluctant to fight against them as they used to be his own soldiers.
Yet, they posed an imminent threat forcing Ali to deal with both an external and an internal enemy.
But eventually their actions grew so bold and outrageous, Ali had no choice but to engage them in battle.
Ali fought the Khawarij at the Battle of Nahrawan and nearly wiped them out. He destroyed all but nine of them, but those nine would be enough.
The nine survivors escaped the battlefield and hatched a plot to kill Muawiyyah, Ali, and Amr ibn Al-as at the same time.
Muawiyyah and Amr ibn Al-As escaped the Khawarij plot. But Ali was not so lucky.
Ali’s death cleared the way for Muawiyyah to negotiate directly with his son, Hassan ibn Ali. Hassan abdicated, and now Muawiyyah was moving in to occupy Kufah.
But the Khawarij posed a problem for Muawiyyah as well.
Politically and militarily, he had to occupy Kufah. He had to establish his authority over Ali’s former stronghold.
However, he wanted to avoid as much violence as possible. He did not want to antagonize Ali’s city any more than necessary.
So, he sent a single cavalry after the Khawarij hoping that would be enough to vanquish their threat.
But like many others, Muawiyyah underestimated the Khawarij. He was stunned and disgusted when the Khawarij defeated and nearly wiped out his cavalry.
No wonder Ali lost and Hassan capitulated. No leader could be successful with such stubborn people in their midst.
Muawiyyah was not about to risk anymore of his soldiers on this debacle. He had a better idea.
He sent a message to the chiefs of Kufah. The Khawarij are from your people, he told them, and your responsibility. Deal with them, or I will unleash my armies on Kufah, and I make no guarantees for your safety.
Without Ali or Hassan to lead them, the Kufans knew they didn’t stand a chance against Muawiyyah. They begged the Khawarij to lay down their arms and rejoin the city.
When that didn’t work, the chiefs organized an army and went out to meet the Khawarij on the battlefield. Many of the Khawarij, surprised their own people turned against them, gave up and returned to their homes.
Those that remained, were destroyed.
Mughirah ibn Shuba
Muawiyyah would need a skilled hand to govern Kufah. He wanted someone capable like Amr ibn Al-As, the governor of Egypt. Since Amr wasn’t available, he chose the next best thing.
Muawiyyah tapped Amr’s son Abdullah ibn Amr to be his first governor of Kufah. And Muawiyyah would have been satisfied with this had he not been approached by Mughirah ibn Shuba.
Like Muawiyyah, Amr, and Ali, Mughirah ibn Shuba was a Sahaba, or companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was from the town of Taif about 40 miles east of Mecca and had accepted Islam after the Prophet migrated to Medina.
Mughirah was a tall man with one eye. He’d lost the other in the Battle of Yarmouk in Syria during the reign of the second Caliph, Umar ibn Al-Khattab.
Mughirah ibn Shuba remained neutral during the conflict between Ali and Muawiyyah. He did not take part in any of the battles and played a neutral role during the arbitration.
But now that the hostilities were over, Mughirah hoped to attain some position with Muawiyyah. When he learned that Muawiyyah had chosen Amr ibn Al-As’ son as governor of Kufah, he saw an opportunity.
“You’ve put yourself between the jaws of a lion,” he told Muawiyyah when the two met in Damascus. “Syria is between the father in Egypt and the son in Iraq.”
Even though Muawiyyah trusted Amr, he understood the potential danger and knew the extents men would go to for power. He immediately deposed Amr’s son and named Mughirah as governor instead.
When Amr learned of this, he met with Muawiyyah and convinced him to at least put a check on Mughirah. If left alone, he said, Mughirah would empty Kufah of its entire treasury.
In order to appease Amr ibn Al-As, and limit Mughirah’s power in Kufah, Muawiyyah made Amr’s son the finance minister of Kufah. Not surprisingly, Mughirah sulked at this, but could do nothing.
The empire was united under Muawiyyah’s rule, but there was still a lot of division. Though the Arab Muslims were the rulers, they were a minority in most areas.
This was most evident in Syria, Muawiyyah’s stronghold. The province known as Syria was not limited to the republic we know today. The region called Ash-Sham, the Arabic word for Syria, included modern day Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and even parts of Saudi Arabia.
During Muawiyyah’s reign, Syria was divided into four smaller districts:
Each of these smaller districts had a governor answerable directly to Muawiyyah. These sub-governors were responsible for collecting the tax revenue and sending it to Damascus.
Outside of Syria, taxation policies were very inconsistent. It was up to the local administration to establish and manage their finances. As such, some provinces did much better than others, depending on the governor in office.
Wealth did not flow from the outer provinces into Syria to be redistributed at Muawiyyah’s whim. All of the tax revenue of Syria, originated in Syria.
Most Syrians at this time were still Christian. It would take generations for the Muslims to become a majority, and even today, there are still large pockets of Christians and Jews living there.
Despite the potential conflict of a Muslim minority ruling over a Christian majority, there were very few religious clashes in Syria during Muawiyyah’s reign.
His jizyah, or non-Muslim tax, was reported to be modest and stable. Abiding by the injunctions of the Quran, he did not demolish churches or monasteries, and did not prevent public Christian worship. And there is evidence that new churches were built during his reign.
Some Christian sects that were persecuted by the Romans flourished under Muawiyyah. Monophysite and Nestorian Christians were finally able to worship openly and freely. And unlike the Romans, he did not resort to playing one group of Christians against another.
Muawiyyah even posted Muslim soldiers to guard Christians during their worship services.
The primary setback for Christianity during Muawiyyah’s reign was that they could no longer depend on government support. This was especially difficult for those Christian groups that aligned with the dominant Greek Orthodox Church in Constantinople.
These Christians now had to depend more and more on private donations. And even this began to suffer as conversion to Islam increased over the years.
Another factor contributing to Syria’s success was Muawiyyah’s preference for diplomacy over force.
When he needed to convince a tribal leader to go along with him, Muawiyyah would invite him to his palace in Damascus. There, he would feed them, entertain them, and shower them with gifts.
He flattered them and offered to use his connections to help out with any problems they may have. In this way, Muawiyyah won the trust of the Syrian nobility.
Some Christian contemporaries described Muawiyyah in glowing terms, saying he was the first among equals. He was not ostentatious, did not wear a crown, and built no monuments in his name.
Unlike his successors, Muawiyyah was essentially a child of the desert. He was born in Mecca and had witnessed the rise of the Arabs over the years.
Even though his father, Abu Sufyan, had once been a bitter enemy of Prophet Muhammad, Muawiyyah saw first-hand the power of Islam. He saw the rise of the religion from its humble beginnings as a persecuted minority in Mecca, to the ruling force over millions of people across three continents.
He knew much of the strength of Islam lay in those simple desert roots. And that was how he preferred to govern the empire.
Simple. Straightforward. Uncomplicated.
As such, his administration was not very sophisticated.
The empire was divided into five large provinces:
- Syria, which included Jordan and Palestine
- Egypt, which included North Africa
- Basra, which included most of southeastern Persia
- Kufah, which included most of Iraq and central Asia
- The Hijaz, which included the Arabian Peninsula.
Each region was further divided into smaller districts. Most of his governors had sub-governors ruling these smaller districts.
But these boundaries were not fixed. Administrative regions shifted depending on Muawiyyah’s preference and the needs of the moment. Sometimes he combined two large regions under one governor. Other times, he split a large region between multiple governors.
Mughirah in Kufah
Much like the Muslim Empire, Kufah was a divided city when Mughirah ibn Shubah became governor.
Though the people of Kufah had given their pledge to Muawiyyah, their hearts were still with Ali. And Mughirah knew the threat of the Khawarij was still present.
Mughirah could not expect much assistance from Muawiyyah in Syria. Muawiyyah generally took a hands-off approach with his officials.
Muawiyyah expected his governors to handle their own problems. If Damascus had to get involved, that meant Kufah needed a new governor. Muawiyyah was known to replace governors in a heartbeat if they proved ineffective.
Furthermore, Mughirah knew the people of Kufah were not yet comfortable with Muawiyyah as their Caliph. Things were fine in Syria and Egypt where Muawiyyah and Amr ibn Al-As ruled respectively.
But in other areas, there was still a lot of resentment against Muawiyyah. The people of Kufah, Basra, and even the Arabian Peninsula weren’t exactly happy that he was in charge. They accepted Muawiyyah because they were tired of fighting, and there was no other viable choice.
With these problems in mind, Mughirah took a conciliatory approach to governing Kufah. He did not pressure the people to verbally acknowledge their loyalty to Muawiyyah. Because of this, he was more or less accepted by the people.
But Mughirah was no fool. He forced those with sketchy loyalties to attend all the public prayers. Their willingness to pray behind Mughirah or his representative demonstrated their submission to him.
Mughirah’s precautions would prove valid. In 43AH, two years after he became governor, a group of Khawarij hatched another rebellion.
Their leader was Ibn Ullifah, who began by holding meetings with other like-minded individuals. They pledged allegiance to Ibn Ullifah and devoted themselves to two things.
First, they promised to fight the Munaafiqun, the traitors to the faith. By this, they meant Muawiyyah and his administration.
Second, they promised to kill the people of the Qiblah, or in other words, average Muslims who did not join them.
Mughirah’s spies soon found out about their suspicious gatherings. His police raided one of their meetings and arrested several of the Khawarij.
However, the ringleader Ibn Ullifah and several others escaped. They learned to be more careful and began secretly meeting at a friend’s house in Hira, about three and a half miles from Kufah.
But they had to move once again as their meetings grew larger and attracted unwanted attention. This time, they moved to the house of one of Ibn Ullifah’s relatives.
Talk of a Khawarij rebellion was all over the city, but Mughirah’s spies had lost track of them. Like Muawiyyah before him, Mughirah decided to apply pressure to the Kufans.
After the prayers one evening, Mughirah gave a speech to the chiefs of Kufah. He warned them of the dangers of rebellion and its repercussions. He advised them to look within their clans and families to root out this evil before things got worse.
He ended his speech on a threatening tone.
“You have heard what I said, so let every man among the chiefs satisfy me regarding his people. If not, then by Allah, I shall surely change from someone you like, into some you hate.”
The chief of Ibn Ullifah’s clan was a staunch supporter of Ali. But he was a noble man who honored his pledges and hated the Khawarij. He promised Mughirah he’d uphold his bay’ah and would kill any Khawarij he found in his clan.
When Ibn Ullifah heard the chief’s declaration, he decided it was time to move again. Even though he ultimately planned to kill any Muslim who didn’t side with him, he didn’t want to bring harm on his own people.
So later than night, Ibn Ullifah and his followers moved to a location near modern day Baghdad. From there, he wrote a letter to the governor of Madain.
In the most audacious manner, Ibn Ullifah threatened the governor with destruction if he did not join the Khawarij cause.
“I summon you to the book of Allah,” the letter read, “and to the Sunnah of His Prophet, and the rule of Abu Bakr and Umar. I also call you to disavow Uthman and Ali for innovation in religion and abandoning the Quran. If you accept, then you are a sensible man. And if you do not, then you’ve run out of excuses and you should prepare for war.”
Ibn Ullifah sent the letter with his youngest follower, a boy not yet fourteen years old. The governor scoffed at the letter, but still sent it up the chain to Mughirah.
This was the break Mughirah was looking for. Now he knew where the Khawarij were located and could focus on bringing them to justice.
Shiites and Khawarij
With few exceptions, the people of Kufah were either Shi’a or Khawarij. Though they shared a common enemy, they couldn’t have been further apart.
The Shia and the Khawarij both hated Muawiyyah and the other Umayyads. Their hatred was based on both historical and political factors.
They both viewed the Umayyahs as opportunists who opposed Prophet Muhammad from the very beginning. Though some Umayyahs did except Islam early on, most notably Uthman ibn Affan, the vast majority did not convert until the Prophet conquered Mecca.
Muawiyyah and his father Abu Sufyan fell into this category.
Abu Sufyan led the opposition against Prophet Muhammad. This made Muawiyyah’s ascendance to the Caliphate even more unthinkable.
While most Khawarij and many Shia accepted the rule of Abu Bakr and Umar as legitimate, they felt things began to go wrong with Uthman ibn Affan. And they felt Muawiyyah perpetuated this injustice by assuming the Caliphate when there were many more qualified individuals.
But the Khawarij and Shia had more differences than similarities.
Their primary difference revolved around who should be the Caliph.
For the Shias, they believed the Caliphate was hereditary. It should pass along to someone from Prophet Muhammad’s lineage, or at the very least, someone from his clan, Banu Hashim.
But the Khawarij did not consider heredity an important factor. Like most Muslims, they believed leadership should be based on merit and ability.
Another striking difference was their identity. The Khawarij, then and now, were not really a sect. Some leaned more towards the Sunni; others more towards the Shia.
The Khawarij represented an ideology.
The ideology they represented was that Islam had been corrupted and it was the government’s fault. The only way to fix this corruption, was the removal of the government and a return to the pure practice of Islam.
This ideology is echoed in many Muslim terrorist groups today.
The Shia, however, are a sect of Islam. What started off as a political dispute between Ali and Muawiyyah, has morphed into a theological split.
While Sunnis and Shia share many of the same religious rituals and concepts, there are many theological differences. Primary among them, is the status of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
For Shia, Ali was the true successor to Prophet Muhammad and held a higher rank than the rest of humanity.
For Sunnis, Ali was a highly-respected companion of Prophet Muhammad. No more and no less.
As far as location is concerned, most Shia are concentrated in the former strongholds of Ali, namely Iraq and Persia. This is why today the three largest Shia majority nations, Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan, are all in this area.
As an ideology, the Khawarij are not limited to any specific geographical region. But they do follow a general pattern of development.
People with Khawarij tendencies will make Hijra, or migration, to an area dominated by like-minded folk. There, they prepare for Jihad against the Muslim establishment.
As a result, most of the victims of Khawarij violence were other Muslims.
This is another pattern found in modern terrorist groups.
The geography around Kufah presented both an opportunity and obstacle in Mughirah’s pursuit of the Khawarij.
This was the eastern edge of one of the most ancient cultures on earth. This region, bounded by the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, was crisscrossed with canals, providing life-giving irrigation and cultivating a rich culture and history.
This fertile region formed a crude triangle with Madain to the north, and the Persian Gulf to the south, and sandwiched between the hostile Arabian deserts to the west, and the formidable Zagros Mountains to the east.
The fertility of the region led to a high population and several major ancient cities. These included Assur, Babylon, Nineveh, Nippur, and Uruk.
Before the Muslim conquests, this fertile region, known today as Lower Mesopotamia, was the breadbasket for the former Sassanian Empire. It was the home of their capital, Ctesiphon, known to the Arabs as Mada’in.
Ctesiphon, or Mada’in, had once been a key city along the famous Silk Road. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting the silk producing cities of China with the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
But with the Muslim conquests, political and economic power shifted west away from Persia; first to Medina, and then to Damascus. And though neither Kufah nor Basra were on the Silk Road, both cities were strategically important to the Muslim Empire.
Kufah, sitting on the western banks of the Tigris River, was a gateway between Arabia and Persia. And Basra gave the Muslims easy access to the Persian Gulf.
Long before the Muslims came, the Persians recognized the bounties of this region and called it Boghu Dadati, or “Gift of God.”
The Abbasids, who would succeed the Umayyahs, would build their capital less than twenty miles from the ruins of Ctesiphon, and called it Madinatus Salaam or, the City of Peace.
However, the ancient name would stick, and by the time of the Crusades, Boghu Dadati had been Arabized to Baghdad.
Ma’qil and the Khawarij
Mughirah knew the area around Madain well and appointed a local chieftain named Ma’qil ibn Qays to find the Khawarij.
Since becoming governor of Kufah, Mughirah had learned much about the politics of the city. He knew Ali’s supporters, the Shi’iatu Ali, despised Muawiyyah.
But he knew they hated the Khawarij even more.
He instructed Ma’qil to include only the Shi’iatu Ali in his band. They would be more determined to destroy the Khawarij.
Ma’qil began his expedition with 3000 men. But by the time they set off, Ibn Ullifah and the Khawarij had moved again.
Ma’qil instinctively guessed his opponent’s next move. He had a feeling the Khawarij would move towards the coast.
He dispatched a speedy cavalry of 300 men towards the Persian Gulf. Sure enough, they caught up with Ibn Ullifah and the Khawarij just outside of Basra.
Ma’qil did not have any illusions his cavalry would defeat the Khawarij. He simply hoped the cavalry could pin them down long enough for the bulk of his forces to arrive.
The next day, Ma’qil received word his cavalry had engaged the Khawarij and were locked in a stalemate.
Ma’qil then chose 700 of his fastest horsemen and led them in a high-speed charge to the coast. They reached Basra by sunset that day.
With nearly 1000 men, Ma’qil got over confident and like many others, underestimated the Khawarij. He would learn a hard lesson about the people he was up against.
The Khawarij, undeterred by the fact they were outnumbered 3 to 1, launched a surprise attack against Ma’qil. His men were scattered and it was all he could do to rally them and regain some semblance of order.
Ma’qil ordered his men to dismount and withdraw their weapons. He got them organized in ranks and then began several hours of hard fighting. Eventually, Ma’qil’s greater numbers bore fruit and by nightfall, the Khawarij had been pushed back to a row of houses in a nearby village.
By this time, the rest of Ma’qil’s forces had arrived on the scene. However, the Khawarij were hiding in the village and it was too dark to go searching for them. So Ma’qil decided to rest his men for the night, and resume the battle in the morning.
Though his men slept, Ma’qil could not. He kept worrying about another surprise attack from the Khawarij. But when morning dawned, he was surprised to find the Khawarij had slipped away.
Frustrated he’d lost them yet again, Ma’qil prepared his men for the pursuit. He sent his cavalry ahead once again, only this time, he doubled the number of soldiers.
Meanwhile, an army from nearby Basra had come to assist in the effort. But when they learned the Khawarij had left the area, they chose to remain behind.
Basra had enough on its plate with a rebellion in the mountains of northern Khurasan. The Khawarij were Kufah’s problem. Ma’qil would have to deal with them on his own.
A Dangerous Gamble
Ibn Ullifah led his Khawarij soldiers back towards Kufah. To his surprise, Ma’qil’s cavalry had caught up with them again. They clashed near a village called Jarjaraya just northeast of Kufah.
Once again, Ibn Ullifah’s men proved to be true warriors and routed the Kufan cavalry.
And once again, the Kufan cavalry proved their resilience and rallied to force the Khawarij to retreat across a bridge spanning the Tigris river.
Ibn Ullifah, was running out of options. The Kufan cavalry had crossed the Tigris and would soon catch up to him.
He was tired of playing cat and mouse. Ibn Ullifah wasn’t afraid of meeting his Lord; but he wanted to do so in splendid glory.
Ibn Ullifah noticed the Kufan cavalry was twice as large as before. And that would make Ma’qil and the rest of his forces, that much more vulnerable.
If he could separate the cavalry from Ma’qil’s primary force, he might be able to strike a punishing blow.
Ibn Ullifah led his men in a frantic charge 20 miles downriver. They found another bridge, crossed back over the Tigris, and cut the ropes. Ibn Ullifah and his men rode off just as the Kufan cavalry approached the opposite side of the river.
After questioning a couple of local youth, Ibn Ullifah learned that Ma’qil and his forces were less than twelve miles away. The old man would have no idea that his cavalry was stranded across the river.
Ibn Ullifah’s plan almost worked.
The Khawarij did catch Ma’qil by surprise. They scattered his horses, forcing the Kufans to fight on the ground, giving the mounted Khawarij a significant advantage.
But Ibn Ullifah did not expect Ma’qil to put up such a stubborn resistance. The old man unsheathed his sword, rallied his men into ranks and fought off wave after wave of Khawarij attacks.
The Khawarij also underestimated how long it would take for Ma’qil’s cavalry to cross the river. Their captain hired a couple of local villagers to repair the bridge and before long, they joined Ma’qil in the fight.
Ibn Ullifah’s gamble proved costly. The Khawarij were already outnumbered, and this time, there was nowhere to run. Caught between Ma’qil to their front and the cavalry to their backs, the Khawarij were slaughtered.
Only six of them survived.
Muawiyyah’s Next Move
Muawiyyah had nothing to do with this battle between the Kufans and the Khawarij. He was hundreds of miles away in Damascus during the entire affair.
However, he did get a report on what happened and the trouble Mughirah ibn Shubah had in putting down this rebellion. Muawiyyah was fortunate to have such a competent man governing Kufah.
Unfortunately, things were not going so well in Basra. This time, it wasn’t the Khawarij who were causing the trouble; rather it was Afghan tribesman in the mountainous regions of northern Khurasan who rose up in rebellion.
The Muslims were learning, as many others would throughout the centuries, that conquering the Afghans was not easy.
Muawiyyah’s cousin, Abdullah ibn Amir, was currently the governor of Basra. But it was clear that he was not up to the task. In addition to the rebellion in Afghanistan, Muawiyyah also received reports of lawlessness, banditry, and chaos in Basra.
Unlike the previous Caliphs, Muawiyyah was running out of high-ranking Sahabas to appoint as governors. The older companions were either dead, or close to it.
His closest friend and advisor, Amr ibn Al-As, had died just a few weeks after the start of the Khawarij rebellion in Kufah. Another Sahabah, Muhammad ibn Maslamah, who was one of the first people in Medina to accept Islam, had died earlier that year.
Most of the younger companions had either joined with Ali against Muawiyyah, or remained neutral and wanted nothing to do with him.
Muawiyyah realized that Iraq was different. He couldn’t deal with the Iraqis the same way he dealt with the Syrians. He couldn’t buy them off with gifts or win their loyalty with flattery and promises.
His cousin Uthman had similar troubles in the two Iraqi cities of Kufah and Basra. They complained incessantly about their governors, but no matter who Uthman put in charge, they were never satisfied.
It was no surprise most of those involved in his murder came from Kufah.
Muawiyyah would have to take a stronger approach with Iraq. The Iraqis had to be physically cowed and spiritually crushed.
Fear was not enough for them.
He needed someone whose very name would strike terror in their hearts.
And he knew just the man for the job.
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